GENT, Belgium (VN) — Three years ago, Philippe Gilbert was at a crossroads. His contract was up at BMC Racing and he was wondering how he wanted to end his career.
Phenomenal Philippe Gilbert wins Paris-Roubaix
Already a world champion and a winner of two of cyclings five monuments — Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Giro di Lombardia — the Belgian superstar felt he needed something new to get his cycling fix. Three years ago, Gilbert suffered the cycling equivalent to a mid-life crisis.
With two Quick-Step riders in the move, the Belgian superteam again had the advantage, much as they have had through much of the classics season. They started playing their cards with 30km to go, with Gilbert accelerating off the front, with Sagan and Politt following. Lampaert slowed the chase for Vanmarcke and Van Aert. Once the Belgian champion had disrupted long enough to give the lead trio a clear gap, he set off in pursuit, dropping Van Aert, who was clearly fatigued from his chase after the Arenberg.
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Though he hails from the French-speaking Ardennes region and grew up near the base of Liège’s famous Côte de La Redoute, he is still Belgian to the bone. And while one half of Belgium is the Ardennes, the other half is Flanders.
Video: COBBLE CRUSADERS | 2019 PARIS-ROUBAIX
So in 2016, Gilbert shifted his gaze from the steep climbs of his backyard to the pavé and cobblestones of Flanders. That decision reached its full realization Sunday in the Roubaix velodrome when he won the “Queen of the Classics.” This isn’t the Gilbert of 10 years ago — he’s somehow become even more versatile.
It was a big bet, Gilbert said. If I kept going like I was going in the Ardennes, I would still be successful there. Maybe I would have won a fifth Amstel Gold or a second Liège, but I was thinking it was more important to win different kinds of races.
Well into his 30s, Gilbert had already done just about everything he could do with his natural skills. Unless he made a dramatic change, he was going to squeeze out another few years of a career, and maybe win a few more familiar races. That wasnt enough.
On cobbled sector number 14 – from Beuvry to Orchies – Politt attacked and drew out Gilbert, Rudiger Selig (Bora-Hansgrohe), and Wesley Kreder (Wanty-Gobert), and they soon took 15 seconds on the reduced peloton. 15km later, Gilbert was the last of the quartet remaining and was the sole man out front of the race.
Instead, Gilbert sensed he needed a new challenge. He emailed Deceuninck-Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere and said he wanted to race on the pavé. Lefevere didnt have a huge hole in his budget, but he offered a relatively low-money contract packed with incentives. The deal was this: you win big races, well give you big bonuses.
Gilbert signed on and promptly paid back Lefevere with a solo victory at the Ronde van Vlaanderen in 2017. Flash forward 24 months and six days, and Gilbert backs it up with Roubaix.
Two years later, I win Paris-Roubaix, he said. This proves that in a sporting career you need new career goals to keep making the sacrifices.
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Winning Flanders wasnt such a stretch for Gilbert. After all, the explosive cobblestone climbs of the Ronde are not that much different than what he had already been specializing in the hillier classics. But to truly commit to the stones, he needed to add brawn to withstand the punishment of the pavé and to still hold the power on the flats.
A run of bad luck for pre-race favorite Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) commenced through the five-star sector, as he mounted the grass and was dropped from the bunch. Once he was back on the pavement and chasing, he got a bike change, then immediately crashed, losing more time.
Roubaix is another story. Perhaps the most incredible statistic about Gilberts Roubaix victory isnt that he attacked with more than 65km to go. Or that he gapped Peter Sagan on the Carrefour de lArbre sector. Instead, it was that he won Roubaix in only his third try.
His first Roubaix came back in 2007 when Gilbert was just emerging as a force in the peloton. By then, he was fully committed to the hills, winning Lombardia in 2009 and 2010. In 2011, Gilbert was untouchable in the spring classics, winning Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège in a row. By 2012, his world title capped his upward trajectory.
Politt remained strong and attacked when the racing was back on the pavement, and Gilbert shadowed, and the pair built a gap. Behind, Sagan was clearly suffering, and Vanmarcke, riding a teammates bike, was struggling with a mechanical.
Its not that Gilbert stopped winning after that, but he wasnt winning as much. He added another Amstel Gold titles to the list of four and kicked to stages in the Giro dItalia and Vuelta a España. But there were no more monuments, no more world titles.
By 2016, Gilbert knew he needed a change, or retire. He wanted to win a few more big races and he wanted to race on Belgiums biggest team. The deal was hashed out over a few emails delivered success sooner than anyone expected, with Gilbert winning Flanders and a fourth Amstel Gold in 2017.
Finally, in 2018, he closed the circle and came back to Roubaix. Despite sky-high expectations, the Hell of the North tamed and even humbled him. Despite attacking early after coming off the Arenberg, he got swallowed up by Sagan and rode to 15th. He was a Roubaix rookie by any measure of the word at 35.
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I did a mistake of not drinking enough last year, Gilbert said. Experience really counts in a race like Roubaix.
Gilbert paid his dues, doing extra recons over the cobbles to better understand the mysteries of Roubaix. He knew how much his intimate knowledge of the roads around the Limburg and the Ardennes had helped him dominate Liège and Amstel Gold. He needed to know the pavé like the back of his hand, or, to put it another way, like a Flandrien.
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On Sunday, it was all about execution. He knew he had the legs, and he knew he had the team. More than anything, though, Gilbert wanted to win in the style of the heroes he grew up watching. Gilbert attacked initially with about 65km to go, way too far against a biting headwind. When teammate Yves Lampaert trailed behind Sagan and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Gilberts bet was looking pretty good.
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He is a big champion because of his results, but also the way he races, said Lampaert. Hes smart.
Lampaert said in the chaos of the closing 30km, they didnt have much chance to speak. One thing was clear, and that was to attack.
Lampaert took a big dig, and then Gilbert countered to surge clear to put Sagan on the ropes. Van Aert succumbed to earlier efforts and Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First) was struggling with bike issues. Only Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin) could follow.
The Belgian made it into the race-winning move but suffered a mechanical in the closing kilometres that ruined his opportunity to fight for victory.
Paris-Roubaix 2019: Philippe Gilbert wins Hell of the North as Peter Sagan finishes fifth
I like panache, Gilbert said. I liked riders like Museeuw or Bartoli. I like these long attacks. Thats when I am best, when all the leaders are fighting mano-a-mano.
Gilberts victory puts him in elite company. Only a handful of riders have won races as diverse as Flanders, Roubaix, Liège, and the world title.
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And thanks to a mid-cycling life crisis, Gilbert has now won the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in a span of barely 24 months. With four of five monuments now in his pocket, hes only missing Milano-Sanremo to finish out the set. Maybe he can reshape himself into a sprinter. Or better yet, just uncork a long attack over the Cipressa. What Gilbert wants, Gilbert gets.
Philippe Gilbert sprints to Paris-Roubaix win
Gilberts Deceuninck-QuickStep team delivered a masterclass as Belgian national champion Yves Lampaert secured the final spot the podium as both Florian Senechal and Zdenek Stybar came home in a chasing group in the top seven.
Defending champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) had to settle for fourth place after fading in the final 20km of a tense 117th edition of the Queen of the Classics.
Brilliant Gilbert battles to Roubaix win | Cycling
Gilbert, Politt, Lampaert and Sagan were part of a select six-man group that entered the business end of the race with an advantage of one-minute over the chasing pack.
Paris-Roubaix: Philippe Gilbert wins fourth monument title of career
Belgians Wout Van Aert (Team Jumbo-Visma) and Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First) were also part of the decisive move, but were first to fade following a string of accelerations.
Gilbert split the leading group in two with a large dig on the infamous five-star Carrefour de lArbre section of cobblestones inside the final 16km.
Both Sagan and Politt held the Belgian veterans wheel before Vanmarcke and Lampaert closed the gap after Van Aert dropped back, feeling the toll following an earlier crash in the race.
It was the impressive Politt – already heavily present in the days main break – who put in the next big attack with 14km remaining, with only Gilbert able to follow.
Mechanical issues ended Vanmarckes chances while an exhausted Sagan was soon pedalling squares, leaving Lampaert as the only rider capable of returning to the fold.
But with team-mate Gilbert up the road, Lampaert settled for third place – raising his arms aloft as he came home 13 seconds down on the days winner before celebrating wildly with his compatriot in the centre of the velodrome.
It was Gilberts fifth victory in cyclings Monuments after his previous triumphs in Il Lombardia (2009, 2010), Liege-Bastogne-Liege (2011) and the Ronde van Vlaanderen (2017). The 36-year-old now just needs a win in Milano-Sanremo to secure an historic clean sweep of the sports biggest one-day races.
Sagan crossed the line for fourth place 42 seconds down and just ahead of a chasing group which was brought home by Frenchman Senechal. The utterly dominant Deceuninck-QuickStep team placed a fourth rider in the top seven in Zdenek Stybar in what was a good day in the office for team manager Patrick Lefevere.
Pre-race favourites Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) and Oliver Naisen (Ag2R-La Mondiale) came home in the chase group but just outside the top 10 after another fierce battle over 29 sectors and 54.4km of cobblestones.
Chilly temperatures and a strong headwind made it hard going for the start of the Hell of the North with no break managing to stick for the best part of two hours despite regular moves zipping off the front to little avail.
With the first hour raced at an average speed of 45.5km/h, the Dane Magnus Cort was particularly active for Astana following an earlier solo break from his Kazakhstan team-mate Dimiriy Gruzdev.
Experienced Italian Marco Marcato (UAE Team Emirates) was joined by former Roubaix Juniors winner, the Dane Mads Pedersen (Trek Segafredo). But the duos lead never stretched above 30 seconds before the race came back together with 200km remaining.
A trio comprising two more Danes in Casper Pedersen (Team Sunweb) and another junior winner, Mads Wurtz Schmidt (Katusha-Alpecin), as well as the experienced Belgian Jurgen Roelandts (Movistar) established a lead of 40 seconds after 60km.
Once again, this move was thwarted. Treks Pedersen tried his luck on at least two more occasions before, finally, a move of nine riders opened up a significant gap after around 80km of tense riding.
Among the leaders were the Belgiums Tim Declercq (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Frenchman Damien Gaudin (Total-Direct Energie), who finished fifth in 2013.
The break had around 10 seconds to play with over a large chasing group that included Belgian champion Lampaert, the rangy German Politt and Italys Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) as the riders hit the first of 29 cobbled sections at Troisvilles with the peloton a further 30 seconds back.
Team Sky, Lotto Soudal and Bora-Hansgrohe set the tempo on the front of the pack as the race entered its cobbled phase having missed the earlier moves which formed in blustery winds after a cagey opening.
Soon, the two moves had merged to form a group of 23 riders with a gap of 50 seconds as the race crossed the second cobbled sector between Briastre and Viesley, dedicated to the late Michael Goolaerts, the Belgian rider who died of a cardiac arrest during last years edition.
With QuickStep duo Lampaert and Declercq, European champion Trentin, French duo Gaudin and team-mate Adrien Petit, and veteran Matti Breschel (EF Education First) all involved, the strong break maintained its 50-second gap going through the first handful of cobbled sectors.
Back with the pack both Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) and Andre Greipel (Arkea Samsic) punctured, while Trentins place in the move came to an end after a rear flat in Sector 26.
It was all over for the break with 120km remaining following the seventh section of cobbles, a short while after a touch of wheels in the pack brought down a cluster of riders including the defending champion Sagan.
Some hefty tempo from Senechal, yet another former Paris-Roubaix junior champion, split the pack and caught out some big-name riders including Sagan, the in-form Naesen and Norwegian Kristoff, who picked up yet another picture and soon disappeared from contention.
In frantic scenes ahead of the infamous five-star cobbled sector of the Arenberg Trench, Belgian Iljo Keisse (Deceuninck-QuickStep) crashed out after a collision with a signpost just before the two packs came back together.
On the infamous Arenberg Trench, the first of three five-star cobbled sections, Belgian cyclocross star Van Aert stuttered, causing Sagan to take evasive action, before joining forces with Australian Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain Merida) 45 seconds back.
The towering Belgian Stijn Vandenbergh (Ag2R-La Mondiale) rode clear in the Arenberg forest to hold a slender lead exiting the 2.3km section as Van Aert continued his chase back.
Van Aerts troubles continued when, having changed bikes, he crashed on a right bend ahead of the joint-longest section of cobbles at Hornaing. The 24-year-old got back on his bike but trailed with leaders by well over a minute and had another battle on his hands with the unpredictable cavalcade of errant team cars.
Fellow Belgian Teisj Benoot experienced these travails first hand: the Lotto Soudal rider, having joined forces with Van Aert after his own crash, was taken to hospital in tears following an alleged collision with Van Aerts Jumbo-Visma team car.
With 65km remaining, a potentially decisive move materialised when Politt attacked in a feedzone and was joined by Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Rudiger Selig (Bora-Hansgrohe). Catching and passing lone leader Wesley Kreder (Wanty-Gobert), the trio established a 25-second gap ahead of the Orchies section of cobbles.
When Sagan accelerated and bridged over with Van Aert, Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First) and Lampaert, it looked very much like the winning break had been formed, especially when the deadwood of Selig had been cast off with 52km remaining.
Behind, the likes of Van Avermaet and Jasper Stuyven (Trek Segafredo) attempted to bridge over, but their attacks were matched by the patrolling of Stybar, who was protecting his two QuickStep team-mates up ahead.
The six-man group of Slovakian champion Sagan, German buck Politt and four Belgians in Gilbert, Lampaert, Van Aert and Vanmarcke, saw their lead extend above one minute with eight cobbled sections to go.
With just over 20km remaining the break split into two following an acceleration by Gilbert. Sagan and Politt followed the veterans wheel, while behind the remaining three Belgians dithered. Lampaert eventually dug in, riding clear with Vanmarcke as Van Aert, feeling the pinch after his earlier crash, appeared to fade.
Meanwhile, the main chasing pack was losing numbers with Trentin among the big-name riders to be distanced. Vandenbergh led the chase for Ag2R-La Mondiale team-mate Naesen but the gap had stretched well over a minute ahead of the final decisive five-star cobbled section of the Carrefour de lArbre.
Lampaert and Vanmarcke rejoined the leaders with 18km remaining but the latter, who was already riding EF Education First team-mate Sebastian Langevelds bike following an incident earlier in the race, saw his chances skuppered by a mechanical.
Sagan, too, faded, the defending champion looking a pale imitation of his former swashbuckling self from 12 months previously. As with last years finale, a clear favourite in Gilbert led an outsider in the Silvan Dillier mould into the velodrome ahead of the final showdown sprint.
Twenty-five-year-old Politt, who finished seventh in his third Roubaix last year, was forced to lead out the sprint, as Gilbert came past on the inside on the final bend to take an impressive yet inevitable win – the 700th victory in his teams history and 23rd of a yet another stellar season.
With just the Milano-Sanremo trophy missing from his cabinet, expect Gilbert and his Deceuninck-QuickStep team to go all in for La Primavera next spring – provided reigning champion Julian Alaphilippe, another QuickStep rider, gives his ascent.
Focus now shifts to the Ardennes classics in the build up to Liege-Bastogne-Liege on 28th April. With two wins from three Monuments so far this season – and that man Alaphilippe likely to feature – we can expect more of the same from the team who laid down an absolute cobbled masterclass in Sundays heavenly Hell of the North.